Alzheimer’s Association offers assistance to help prevent people with dementia from wandering

Posted 27 January 2023 at 3:41 pm

Press Release, WNY chapter of Alzheimer’s Association

BUFFALO – Yesterday’s tragedy involving a woman with Alzheimer’s disease who died after leaving her home in Middleport has prompted the Western New York Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to offer information to help prevent wandering by people with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.

“We want to offer our sincere and deepest sympathies to the family of Diane Harvey, and as people who work every day with those living with dementia and their caregivers, we share in their heartache,” says Andrea Koch, director of education for the WNY Chapter.

It is estimated that 60% of people with dementia will wander and become lost at some point, due to losing their ability to recognize familiar places and faces. If not found within 24 hours, up to half of wandering individuals will suffer serious injury or death. The WNY Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association offers several safety measures to help curb wandering.

“We have allocated funds from our New York State Department of Health grants to offer free enrollment in Medic Alert + Wandering Support, which provides medical ID bracelets for people living with dementia,” Koch said.

To enroll through the Alzheimer’s Association, a family submits medical information, emergency contact info, and a recent photo to Medic Alert, so that in the event a person wanders, a) they have ID on them even if they’re not carrying a wallet or purse and b) Medic Alert can act as an information hub, sending out all pertinent information to all local first responders.

“The hope is that this will speed up the process of locating the person and ensure that first responders have all pertinent medical info in case there is a medical emergency when the person is found,” Koch said. “We also offer a companion bracelet for caregivers, so, for example, if a caregiver is injured while running a quick errand, first responders will know there is someone living with dementia they need to go check on.”

The WNY Chapter also can offer free door alarms for families so they will know if someone opens a door unexpectedly.

“Unfortunately, these aren’t foolproof systems, but these tools do offer added layers of protection,” Koch said. “The heartbreaking truth is that wandering can happen unexpectedly and with little warning. In our unforgiving WNY winters, families and first responders may need every tool at their disposal to avoid a tragedy like the one we saw yesterday. Our chapter has taken these added steps to provide resources locally in the hope we can prevent this whenever possible.”

The Alzheimer’s Association also offers the following tips to help families prevent their loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia from wandering:

  • Identify the time of day the person is most likely to wander. Plan things to do during this time including exercise as it may help reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness.
  • Create a daily plan. Involve the person in daily activities, such as folding laundry or preparing dinner.
  • Reassure the person if he or she feels lost, abandoned or disoriented.
  • Consider using a GPS device. If the person is still safely driving, this can help if they get lost.
  • Remove access to car keys. If the person is no longer driving, they may forget that they no longer drive.
  • Avoid busy places. Shopping malls and other busy areas can be confusing and cause disorientation.
  • Assess the person’s response to new surroundings. Do not leave someone with dementia unsupervised if new surroundings may cause confusion, disorientation or agitation.

If a family member does wander and get lost, begin your search immediately. Start by searching the immediate vicinity, including “less-traveled” areas in your home. Outside the home, search the yard and nearby surroundings. Most people who wander are found within a half mile of their homes or starting location.

If, after 15 minutes, the person is not located, call 911 to file a missing person’s report. New York State law enforcement can issue a Missing Vulnerable Adult Alert, to alert the public that an individual who is at least 18 years old and has a cognitive disorder, mental disability or brain disorder has gone goes missing. This program allows for the rapid dissemination of information that can result in an individual’s safe return.

“It breaks our hearts when we hear families say, ‘We wish we knew about the Alzheimer’s Association sooner,’” Koch said. “If there is anyone in Western New York struggling with caring for a loved one living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, please know that around-the-clock support and abundant free resources are just a phone call away.”

The WNY Chapter can provide families with a free Safety Services brochure with more information. To receive one, call 716.626.0600 ext. 313 or email

To learn more about ways to prevent wandering or how to take action when wandering occurs, visit or call 800-272-3900.